Ruth Stricker Dayton 2019

Ruth Stricker Dayton, 2019 Honorary Chinese Minnesotan of Note


Ruth Stricker Dayton comes from a family of Presbyterian ministers and grew up in the small town of Windom (current population 4,600) with a strong desire for learning and a passion for helping others. She attended Macalester College where she majored in physical education and religion. She also studied art, music and dance. These experiences laid the foundation for the extraordinary and incomparable life that she was to embark on.

Ruth began her career as a health education director at YWCA in Chicago, and soon started incorporating yoga, tai chi and Eastern healing arts into her classes in physical fitness. Along the way she found two mentors: Bonnie Prudden at the Mind/Body Institute at the University of Massachusetts, and Chungliang Al Huang, a peripatetic authority on East-West cultural synthesis.

Returning to the Twin Cities, Ruth continued to teach her unique classes in physical fitness that included yoga and taichi. She also engaged her students in earnest conversations about life, personal matters and philosophical beliefs, and found that these interactions made her teaching far more effective.

From this experience Ruth came to realize that when we move physically, it opens up our heart and soul, and that our body, mind and spirit are inseparable. Her mission in life was thus born: to pursue a holistic philosophy and a liberal arts approach to health and fitness.

Diagnosed at an early age with lupus, an immune system disorder, Ruth determined to forge ahead, firm in her convictions that a comprehensive approach to wellness that engages the mental, spiritual and emotional, as well as the physical fitness in her life, would be the best management of her condition. She carved her own path, embracing the Chinese concept of balance, the yin and the yang, that she had learnt from Chinese philosophy. She maintained a positive attitude and a sense of humor, while keeping herself physically healthy, and actively engaged in being a positive contributor to those around her. Recognizing the resilient human spirit as a motivating life force, she tapped into it to triumph over the stress and adversity in her condition, and thrive. Peace, to her, is “being content with the constants in life.” She was way ahead of her time. The term integrative medicine had not even been invented then. It would be decades before the western medical community caught up with her.

Ruth’s personal philosophy has also infused everything else in her life, including her marriage to Bruce Dayton and their joint venture in creating The Marsh, a Center for Balance and Fitness.

Ruth describes her marriage to Bruce as a fairy tale romance, one that was based on mutual love and respect. Combining (in her own words) her passion for putting Eastern philosophy into context with Bruce’s discerning eye, they built the Chinese collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Art into one of the largest in the United States. Ruth said, “Our marriage brought joy and pleasures of blending our different interests, abilities, passion and resources. We had fun together discovering that our happiness was based on helping others.”

Their other major joint venture was creating The Marsh, A Center for Balance and Fitness. Ruth had wanted to put her passionate convictions of integrated wellness into a revolutionary health community concept where she could make a small difference. At The Marsh, the word Balance is used as a metaphor for life: taking care of oneself and reaching out to others. Ruth likes to say that The Marsh has a wide front door: it is a public community center that is a private enterprise, and its mission is “to provide an environment and philosophy that inspires challenges, educates and supports a healthy approach to life.” It is an inclusive place for wellness – physical, mental and emotional. It combines the allopathic philosophy of western medicine with holistic or complementary practices (or integrative therapies as they are now called) such as massages and Chinese acupuncture. It is a fitness center, a spa, a rehabilitation center, a conference center, and, importantly, a gathering space that addresses life’s issues and offers support. Ruth’s innovative concept of offering complementary services around physical fitness is why, today, The Marsh is considered the premier center for integrated mind-body fitness in the U.S., and is a model in both Europe and Asia.

Throughout the decades Ruth has received numerous honors for having given generously of both her leadership and resources to multiple causes, and for her pioneering concept of exercise in healing and integrating mind, body and spirit. In 2004 she was named the Humanitarian of the Year by the International Spa Association and lauded as the “conscience of the spa industry.” She was also named a Healthy American Fitness Leader by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, and is known as the first lady of mind-body knowledge throughout the country.

Everywhere that Ruth goes she exudes a compassion and joy that is contagious. A devoted mother and grandmother, she insists that we must offer hope, and urges us to “seize the day, stake our claim, find our passion, be open to new ideas and emotionally resilient and physically healthy so we can actively engage in being a positive contributor to our community,” – an exhortation that she has both lived and walked.

The Chinese Heritage Foundation honors Ruth Stricker Dayton for her big heart, altruism, humility, infectious joy, deep compassion, generous philanthropy, positive outlook, and abiding desire to serve the greater good. We celebrate her pioneering role in incorporating the Chinese philosophy of balance into the mind-body connection and integrative medicine. She is our role model for how to lead a purposeful, all embracing and rewarding life.

David Fong, Chinese Minnesotan of Note, 2018

David Fong is descended from a long line of hardworking Chinese men who were U.S. citizens. These men, originally from Taishan, China, had spent their entire lives working in the U.S.  But, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act then in effect, they were not allowed to bring their wives and families into the U.S.   As a result, these men returned to Taishan regularly to visit their families or to get married and start new families.   David was born after one of his father’s such visits home.  In 1949, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed, David, together with his mother and younger sister, was able to come to the U.S. and rejoined his father, who had by that time moved to Minneapolis.

Shaped by his Taishan childhood and U.S. education, David thrived on hard work and soon was nurturing a budding entrepreneurial spirit.  One day, he and his young wife, Helen, together with their first two-month-old baby, Eddie, decided to take a long drive from North Minneapolis to then rural Richfield to look at a store front for sale.  They got lost and found instead a tiny, different storefront for rent at 98thand Lyndale in Bloomington.  They decided to take a chance on it and the rest, as they say, is history.  Their iconic restaurant, David Fong’s at 93rdand Lyndale, was designated a Bloomington landmark in 2015, and just celebrated its 60thanniversary.  

Today we are here not to celebrate David’s financial success, or for being among the first to be inducted into the Minnesota Restaurant of Fame, but for being the model citizen that he has become.   He is grateful for the many opportunities available to him in Minnesota, particularly in Bloomington, and has taken his civic duties seriously.    He has cheerfully offered free space at his restaurant for the meetings of many nonprofits, including the Bloomington Lions Club and VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People), and hosted many of their fundraising events.  Throughout the decades, all local community fundraisers that support schools, churches, youth sports and other charities have found a receptive ear in David.  

David has a special winning formula to help raise funds for organizations whose missions are close to his heart, such as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet and Knights of Columbus.  First he negotiates for a donated space, if necessary.  Then he works on donated food (from suppliers such as Asian Foods or Cub Foods), and then he goes about recruiting chefs to donate their time.  The result is that the entire proceeds collected at the event go to the designated charity. And to top it off, David then buys blocks of tickets to invite his friends and families to attend the festivities.  

So how does one respond to someone who does so much good with such enthusiasm and an infectious laugh? The City of Bloomington knew how: in addition to having presented David with numerous separate awards, it declared October 27, 2008, as David and Helen Fong Day.

Within our community, David’s influence is equally wide-ranging.   In 1970 David was president of CAAM (Chinese American Association of Minnesota) and under his leadership our community built the famous Chinese arch that graced Nicollet Mall during the Aquatennial Parade. The arch was later moved to the State Fair Grounds.  During this same period David and Helen helped start the first Chinese Language School at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis.  Helen was also a founding member of the Chinese Senior Citizens Society.  In the ensuing decades both she and David have remained active in this organization.  There are always extra box lunches for outings or extra prizes at annual events. David and Helen are both also active in the local and national Moy’s Family Associations where David is currently a president emeritus.

In their private lives David and Helen have raised six remarkable children and are close to all of them.  They are doting grandparents and one of David’s great joys is teaching his children and grandchildren the game of golf.  Both Eddie and Donald were with him when he shot a hole-in-one at the 2015 Randy Shaver Cancer Fund Charity Tournament.

David and Helen have a wide circle of friends, all of them stretching back decades and   among whom David’s unhesitating loyalty is legendary.  Both he and Helen have retained strong ties with their home villages in Taishan, welcoming fellow members to Minnesota and returning frequently themselves to see to the needs of the wider community there as well.

Every year at the Chinese Qingming(青明) Festival (Chinese memorial day) David and Helen visit the Chinese Sections at both Lakewood Cemetery and Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul.  Following our tradition of sweeping graves(扫墓) on this occasion, David and Helen tidy up many of the Chinese graves at both cemeteries, including those that are not related to their own families and particularly those that have no living descendants left in the area.  

The Chinese Heritage Foundation honors David for his abundant humanity, good cheer, generous and hospitable nature, quiet philanthropy, abiding love and devotion to Chinese traditions, family and friends. 

Danny Woo

An interview with Lila Woo, widow of Danny Woo

Lila -- I spent my childhood in my home village with Taishan, China. Back then Taishan was divided into different areas bordered by gates in each direction. There were many different villages there, sometimes each one consisted of families all with the same last name: Wong, Fong, etc. We were actually very close to the Pacific Ocean, but back then with no public transportation, we did not venture beyond our own village.

general5img 7 20131107 1508652759I was an only child in our family. My mother had been pregnant with a son earlier, but miscarried along the way. My father returned to his work in Canada when I was 3 months old, and sent money home regularly while my mother and I lived with his mother, brother and sister. I grew up being close to my mother and she often said that with just one daughter, there was no need to rush me into marriage.

When Japan invaded China communication with my father became difficult. For about 8 years my mother did not receive any letters or money from him. Fortunately our family had much land and we were able to grow enough food and raise chickens for our own needs. We had more than enough and often shared our surpluses with our relatives who did not have enough.

I was fortunate to be able to attend school. It was a luxury that farmers' children could not afford. Very few children could progress through primary school to junior high/senior high/college. I walked to grade school and back everyday, even though it was a fairly long distance. All the students ate lunch at the school dining room and we could pay for our lunch with money and rice. I remember once a friend in my class had no money with her. She was looking so longingly at that bowl of wonton noodle soup that, without hesitation, I gave her my lunch money. I did not realize until afterwards that I would then have to go home to get more money to pay for my own bowl of wonton soup!

Soon the Japanese bombing came to our village. I remember the first time they came because my mother had gone out shopping and she ran home without finishing when the Japanese planes came. First the planes would fly really low to look around, to assess where their bombing would make the most damage. They flew so low that we could make eye contact with the pilots. Then on their second flyover the bombing would start. By that time we would all be scattering and running for coverage. There were sirens that would go off, but usually by the time we heard them, it was already too late.

The planes came once during our weekly market day when many people were out. We all dove into the ditches. How would they know there would be so many of us out at that time? Were there traitors among us giving them the information?

Another time the bombs came when a family with three boys happened to be outside. They did not have enough time to run for cover and the entire family was killed.

By this time things were getting difficult for everyone and I saw people starving to death on the streets, including babies. There was no school any more. Even our family was beginning to feel the pinch.

Once the Japanese Army came to our village, without warning. They were coming up over the hill and we ran to hide in the bunkers on the bottom of the hill. All the mothers were keeping their hands over the mouths of their children in order to keep them quiet. The Army came through our village and took everything, the eggs, the chickens, the rice, and the pumpkin. But they did not take the winter melon. I suppose they did not know what to do with or how to cook them. But they really liked the pumpkins.

After the War ended in 1945 school opened again and I resumed my attendance. Things were still just getting back to order and we could pay for our tuition with rice and money.

Then the news came that Chinese American GIs from the U.S. were in town looking for wives. It generated a lot of buzz because marrying one of them would be big for any family. All mothers were dreaming of marrying their daughters to one of them.

Danny -- Danny was born in China and lived with his mother while his father was working indanny woo 6 20140113 1871446936 Minneapolis. His father came back to get him when he was 8-10 years old.

Danny enlisted as soon as he was eligible, in 1944, for the U.S. Navy. Had he b

een late by a 

week he would have been drafted into the Army. He was assigned a storekeeper on board the battle cruiser U.S.S. Astoria in the Pacific. Being a storekeeper seemed to have been a common assignment for Chinese enlistees at the time. He liked to draw and drew this cover for a magazine on board ship.

danny woo 8 20140113 1087081438Within 3 months of his assignment the War was over. His ship was in Pearl Harbor then. He was discharged, came back to Minneapolis and left for China right away.

Danny and I did not meet until our wedding day. There was a big wedding celebration for us. I did not even know how to talk to Danny. But he was very patient. We stayed in Danny's family home and I went home to visit my mother often. I soon became pregnant and we had to plan to return to the U.S. before the baby was due, because we wanted the baby to be born a U.S. citizen.

danny woo 7 20140113 1115323236We arrived in Minneapolis during the heat of the summer and rented a house together with Danny?s father. Danny went back to work at Nankin where he had worked before he enlisted for the Navy. Walter James, the owner, had been kind to Danny and had thrown a farewell party for him when he enlisted.

I did not like the hot weather. But Danny was kind and patient. He took me to Sunday School at Westminster Presbyterian Church where Jane Wilson took me under her wing and helped me in numerous ways, in addition to teaching me English, to adjust to a strange country. There were several other War Brides, as Aunt Jane called us, who arrived in Minneapolis at about the same time. Meeting and becoming friends with them saved my life. Some of them, like Pearl Wong, lived only about 5 miles from my home village. But we never met until we arrived here.

Danny also taught me how to cook. Back home we had maids and my mother did the majority of the cooking. So I knew nothing. Soon my first baby, Linda, was born. Three more followed in quick succession, within the next four years. I had a total of two boys and two girls, and no more free time. I did wish I had more time to sleep, but one of any of the four babies would be awake at any one time.

We bought our first house in 1950 and saved as much money as we could so that we could open our own restaurant. In the meantime Danny's mother came over here to help with the children so that I could work also. We opened our first restaurant at 4725 Excelsior Blvd. in St Louis Park. It was called Danny Woo Cafe.

Later on we moved the restaurant to Highway 394 and then back to St Louis Park. It was called Bernie Park Deli and we served Chinese and American food. I remember the long hours we worked in the kitchen.

My father, who had his own restaurant in Saskatchewan at the time, came to see me in 1950. It was the first time I had seen him since I was 3 months old. My mother came over in 1952 and then went to join my father in Saskatchewan. When they retired they moved to Edmonton and liked the Chinese food there. My family and I went to visit them every other year. My mother passed away when she was 72, but my father lived to be 90. He came to attend the wedding of our son and a few months later he passed away. I was grateful I had a chance to get to know him after I moved here.

When we were ready to retire, our kids did not want the restaurant. So we sold it. I traveled a bit, going to San Francisco to visit an old school classmate, and returning to China for my 65th reunion at my school. Danny and I took a long trip to China, with a group of 16 people. Among other things, we ate snake. We liked Shanghai and its good food.

Danny has since passed away and today I continue to enjoy my four children and their families. All four children are college graduates and have successful careers. I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful life.


Frederick Wong

Fred Wong served in the 1st aromored division in Italy and later on in Africa.

Walter Hong

 Memoir by Walter Hong, written in 2004 and provided by his family

walter hong 24 20140113 1628409154I was born in Minneapolis in 1927 and when I was five years old, my father decided to take my sisters, brother and me back to Hong Kong so that we could attend a Chinese school and acquire a Chinese educational foundation before we joined the American school system. So in 1932 our family went back to Hong 
Kong, but when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Mainland China in 1937 my father changed his mind. So our family returned to Minneapolis. 
(Ed.'s note: Walter was the older boy in the above family photograph.  The younger boy was Jimmy, who went on to become a legendary Hollywood actor and star.)

Since I couldn't speak any English, school administrators in Minneapolis put me into first grade, with 6-year olds even though I was 11. I felt so humiliated, but it motivated me to study hard in English. I caught up rapidly and succeeded in finishing Eighth Grade at the end of five years. 
By this time, 1942, the Japanese invasion of China had intensified and Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Having spent 5 years in Hong Kong and hearing about Japanese actions in China first hand had impressed upon me the desire to join the U.S. Army to fight Japanese aggression. But I still had four years of high school to finish, before my parents would allow me to go. 

Mr. Herbert Park, a close friend of my father's and a Board Member at Pillsbury Military walter hong 21 20140113 1924905713Academy in Owatonna, heard of my dilemma
and decided to help. He recommended that I be admitted to Pillsbury. 
I began as a freshman there and took regular classes during the day; but in my off hours I received special tutoring, by many sympathetic teachers, in Science and Math, English and Literature and other subjects at the junior and senior levels. Thus I was able to finish four years of high school in two years and graduated from Pillsbury in the spring of 1944. Thus I had attained my goal of graduating at the age of 18, so that I may join the military service.

One of the requirements for graduation at Pillsbury was participation in the Seniors Oration Contest. After much thought and research, I decided my topic would be "Our Relationship with walter hong 20 20140113 1954963147China, Our Ally".  Our contest coach, Major Jones who was one of my tutors, gave me extra guidance and coaching in many intense practice sessions. 
As a result I won the Contest and received an award at our 
graduation ceremony. Little did I anticipate that in the following years I would be deeply involved in China's Civil War and, as an American, helping to enforce the negotiated truce.

Among those attending my graduation ceremony at Pillsbury
were my family and Miss Angst, my Chinese Sunday School Teacher in Minneapolis. She was my first English teacher in 1937 when I first returned from Hong Kong and could not speak a word of English. She was so proud of me for winning the Oration Contest.

During my two years at Pillsbury, our daily Chapel Services, conducted by our Headmaster, Mr. 
Strayer, made the most impression on me. Mr. Strayer’s sermons were so searching and sincere. They were a 
demonstration of how seriously he took his duty as Headmaster and spiritual guide to his young charges. In addition, his wife, Mrs. Strayer, taught Sunday school classes in plain and sincere English. Christianity was a new 
religion to me at that time. My first exposure to it at the Minneapolis Chinese Sunday School now blossomed into a profound faith under the influence of Mr. and Mrs. Strayer. It was, and is, the greatest gift a person can receive.

After I graduated from Pillsbury, I began studying engineering at the University of Minnesota and preparing for the written entrance examination to West Point at the same time. Mr. Herbert Park, who had helped me get into Pillsbury two years ago, decided to ask Congressman Walter Judd to sponsor me for the examination. But even with that sponsorship I did not manage to get in, as only the top two scorers received appointments that year.

I then decided to join the U.S. Army seeking to enter U. S. Military Intelligence and Language School at Fort Snelling, Minn. Fortunately, I got in and graduated two years later in 1946. I was assigned to the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, and, since WWII was over by then, given the assignment of enforcing the negotiated truce between the Nationalist (Chiang Kai-Shek) and the Communist (Mao Zedong) Parties in China’s civil war. My assignment took me to the mist of their battlegrounds in several places in China. Fortunately, I got out unharmed. The 
outcome of the civil war was tragic for the Nationalists. The 
reports, as published by our U. S. State Department and white washing 
the blames, were erroneous, as I had personally witnessed the 
situations; but those erroneous reports have since become history.

However, the best thing that happened to me during my assignment to our OSS Headquarterwalter hong 19 20140113 1252372638 in Shanghai was meeting a beautiful young lady soon after I arrived. Her family had come from Canton three generations ago, and she had learned to speak Cantonese from her 
parents. The Cantonese dialect is that of Hong Kong’s and similar to the Taishan dialect spoken by the 
majority of the Chinese immigrants to the U.S. at the time. Thus we were able to communicate in our native dialect. We fell in love and married soon after.

walter hong 23 20140113 1589248833When I returned from China I returned to the University of Minnesota and graduated with a degree in Engineering. In the ensuing years I worked as an engineer for the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers in Los Angeles, the North American Aviation Inc.’s Missile Division in Anaheim, and the Agency for International Development in Thailand. While in Thailand I was an advisor to government engineers in training them to build up the country’s infrastructure such as highways, bridges, water supplies and sanitation facilities. It was gratifying work.

My wife and I have been happily married for 58 years 
now. Our four children, two girls and two boys, are all in their fifties or nearly so. We are blessed with nine grand 
children, four girls and five boys, ranging from four months old to thirty years old. 
 I continue to be thankful for the Christian influence that Pillsbury had given me in those early years, particularly as I now look back, in my graying years.

(Note from family: Walter went peacefully to be with the Lord on June 3, 2012.)